CWS 3.0: January 23, 2013

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Selecting the Right Consultant

I was having a conversation a few days back with a former colleague around our favorite topic, contingent workforce solutions. We tossed around ideas that would surely revolutionize the thought process around contingent worker utilization … as if most hadn’t already been thought of. Joking aside, we managed to spend an hour or so bantering back and forth about our disdain for some of the consultants who clearly had no experience in the space. I'm not casting all contingent workforce consultants into a “stay away at all cost” category; rather, I want to draw attention to those that talk the talk but have never walked the walk.

Over the last 10 years, I have been engaged by a number of consultants claiming to have expertise in the contingent workforce industry. As my career moved toward the MSP arena, so did the consultants’ expertise. I was amazed at the transformation of these experts. I recall working with three separate consultants in particular, all from well-known global firms, who were engaged to evaluate a program that I was affiliated with. On each occasion, our team provided the required data, a program summary overview and internal survey data that reflected positively on how the program was being run. I was pleased with our ability to provide each data request so quickly and describe the degree of transparency our customers and suppliers enjoyed. Surprisingly, this did not seem to impress the consultants and on each occasion we were openly challenged on areas we felt were pretty successful.

We debated each challenge from our supplier selection process, service-level agreements, payment terms and so on. The largest debate, however, would always center on pricing. Having negotiated more contracts than I care to count, I can honestly say that each pricing debate I have had with an MSP consultant has left me baffled, these three included. After my first experience and to check my sanity, I benchmarked our pricing using some internal and external market analysis and found the program to be in line with industry standards. What I did discover on each occasion was the common denominator that defined each of these engagements: none of the consultants had ever worked in the contingent workforce industry. I am sure they had lots of training, read all the literature, and surely aced the case studies. In general, they were very intelligent individuals who had never rolled up their sleeves and developed a program strategy, built a contingent workforce team and drove an implementation. They simply had not worked in the industry and this greatly bothered me.

As my conversation with my former colleague drew to a close, we talked about the firms we had the opportunity to work with that did possess experience in the industry. These firms have enjoyed a fair amount of success helping buyers and sellers alike. It’s the experience on the company resume that brings credibility to the discussion. When you have worked in the industry, you recognize the difference.

If you are responsible for the contingent workforce program at your organization and are considering engaging a consultant, I would encourage having a careful selection process. Review the credentials and consider experience over theory. Human capital is the differentiator on the competitive landscape; you have to get it right.

At the end of the engagement and after you have implemented a program strategy based on the consultant’s recommendations, the program’s success can hinge on the advice you have been given. It’s your decision on going with experience or someone who may have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express the night before.

Gary Campbell is director of human resources at Johnson Health Center and a contingent workforce strategist and educator. 

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